Monday October 29, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- About 200 politicians and union supporters were treated to a round of podium-pounding, glassware- rattling rhetoric on Sunday morning, as Vermont Sen. Bernard "Bernie" Sanders emphatically urged the audience to support Democrat Elizabeth Warren in her bid to win a U.S. Senate seat in this state.

Sanders, who serves as an In dependent but usually votes with the Democrats, was in town for the 27th annual Labor-Legislative Breakfast -- normally a relatively polite affair, with lots of good-humored joshing and applause.

Sunday’s event honored longtime former county commissioner and union activist Peter Menard, who served as a county commissioner for 17 years. He was also the longtime president of the IUE 255, as well as a member of the Berkshire Cen tral Labor Council.

In addition, outgoing U.S. Rep. John Olver, who retired after 44 years in politics, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

But it was Sanders’ praise for Warren and denunciation of the policies of the Republican Party that had the audience hooting and applauding.

Sanders reminded the audience that the United States is at a critical moment in its history.

"The great middle class, the envy of every other country in the world, is shrinking," he said. "The greed and illegal activities of Wall Street are the prime contributor.

"I knew Elizabeth Warren before she was Elizabeth Warren," joked Sanders.


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"I knew her when she was writing books and working as an educator. If you elect Elizabeth Warren, you are not just getting a good U.S. senator, you will be getting a great U.S. senator. She knows as much about economics and Wall Street and the impact of these factors on the working family as anyone in Congress. And she’s tough. She is a fighter. She will do a great job."

Sanders emphasized that any plan to cut Social Security benefits, a proposal put forth by some Republican office-holders, was "repugnant.

"Before Social Security, about 50 percent of the elderly in this country lived in poverty. Now that figure is 9 percent. Still too much, but better than 50 [percent]. Before you cut Social Security and Medicare and nutrition programs for children, maybe -- just maybe -- you should think about taxing the rich a little more.."

Earlier, in introducing Olver, state Sen. Benjamin D. Downing recalled that Olver’s preparedness was legendary.

"We would make up these huge binders for him," he began. Then realizing what he was saying, Downing hesitated and laughed. "Binders full of information! Not full of women!"

Downing was referring to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s assertion in the second presidential debate that he collected "whole binders full of women," in seeking qualified members for his cabinet as governor of Massachusetts.

Downing praised Olver as a man serious about serving his constituents throughout West ern Massachusetts.

For his part, Olver said he planned to "get out and do whatever my body still lets me do: Rock-climbing, hiking and gardening."

Both Olver and Downing praised Menard’s work on behalf of the county and union laborers.

"We all stood on the shoulders of giants to get where we are," Downing said. "And one of those giants was Peter Menard."

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile